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14 Jun 2006 : Column 806

Some have suggested that the moment of reflection will be followed by an attempt to bring the old treaty proposals in by the back door. I do not see it that way and I would not support that, but the proposals included other matters, especially the role of national Parliaments, that we should support. Some national parliamentarians have said that we are cherry-picking—but if it is cherry-picking to argue the case for more powers for national Parliaments, I support it.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The hon. Gentleman mentions fitness for purpose, but is not that impossible to achieve? As far as the Dutch are concerned, the problem with the treaty is that it is too threatening to sovereignty, but for the French it is that it is economically too liberal. The treaty cannot possibly be made fit for purpose.

Mr. Hood: I am talking not about the treaty that has been rejected by France and the Netherlands, but about the treaty that we have now and the need to change it to accommodate enlargement. That is only practical and logical, and it is good politics.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Under our system, this Parliament is unlikely ever to arrive at a decision that is other than the Government’s, so it is wrong to talk of extra power for national Parliaments: it is simply more information.

Mr. Hood: I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not share my confidence in our Parliament to argue the case for more powers, because that is what we are doing. Dissatisfaction with our process for scrutiny—and it should be improved in some areas—is no reason to argue against increased powers for national Parliaments. Indeed, other Parliaments claim to scrutinise European legislation more than the UK Parliament. I am critical of our process of scrutiny and it could be improved, but we scrutinise European legislation better than most and as well as any. We have been given examples with which I do not agree.

Mr. Walter: The hon. Gentleman may have received this morning, as I did, a document published by the Robert Schuman Foundation, which is not known for its Eurosceptic views. It was written by the leader of the EU delegation in the French Senate and makes the same point as the hon. Gentleman. I was surprised by his comments about COSAC and the French National Assembly, because the document acknowledges the no vote in France and calls for stronger national Parliaments. It is even called “National Parliaments: a bulwark for Europe”. The hon. Gentleman is on the right lines.

Mr. Hood: The person who wrote the document must have been reading some of my speeches to reach the same conclusion. However, it was not a member of the French Senate who made the comment at COSAC, but a member of the French Assembly. It is not unusual for members of both Houses here to disagree, so that is perhaps what happened in that case.

We need to improve our scrutiny. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, in his brief time as Leader of the House, responded progressively—which
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may have rung the alarm bells among the establishment here—to the modernisation report, but it has not yet been brought to the House almost a year later. I appeal to those who have influence on the matter to act. I have already made arrangements to talk to the new Leader of the House so that we may return to that report, bring it to the Floor of the House and discuss it. We should also consider some of the proposals made by my right hon. Friend, because his progressive approach was surely influenced by his 10 years’ experience in the European Parliament before he came here. He was a Leader of the House who—shock, horror—knew what he was talking about on European scrutiny. The House should look favourably on his proposals for scrutiny, and do so as soon as possible.

There is never a satisfactory way of scrutinising the Executive, but it is important that parliamentarians on both sides of the House accept our responsibility and duty to hold it to account, regardless of which party is in government. It is so important that Parliament knows, on behalf of the people whom we represent, what the Government do in their name. That is why we all have a collective interest in improving the process of scrutiny. I hope that we will return to the issue as soon as possible and do just that.

2.37 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): It is a real pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood), especially given the comments that he made about the scrutiny of European legislation in this House and elsewhere. I am especially grateful to him for the generous way in which he handled the constructive interventions from the hon. Members for Moray (Angus Robertson) and for Glasgow, South-West (Mr. Davidson) who, mysteriously, are no longer in their places. No doubt they will return to make their usual contributions at some point soon.

Like the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East and the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), I pay tribute to the new Foreign Secretary and wish her well in her new post, especially as this is her first major debate on Europe. As the right hon. Gentleman said, these debates take a familiar form and pattern, and the contributions do not necessarily change much from year to year.

At least in the past few years, the European summits have had a clear area of focus. We had the Convention, then all the discussions about enlargement and the constitutional treaty, followed by the shock and horror of the European political classes in the aftermath of the French and Dutch referendums last year. The sense of shock may have dissipated in this period of reflection, but the sense of unease remains, and it has affected the debate in this country and the participants in it.

Last summer, the Prime Minister made what everyone reckoned was a barnstorming speech in the European Parliament, which is perhaps unused to a style of delivery with which we are more familiar here. The speech was, obviously, focused on Europe, as was one that he gave at St. Antony’s college in Oxford earlier in the year. However, it was revealing that when he made his much vaunted package of three foreign
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policy speeches in the past couple of months—in London, in Canberra and at Georgetown university in the United States—he made virtually no mention of the European Union. Indeed, the debate at St. Antony’s revealed a former idealist who may have become more than a little scunnered over the years.

In the constitutional treaty process, the former Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House, was very focused on red lines and on never giving in, but I hope that it is not unfair to mention his barely concealed joy when he spoke about the constitution being either dead or in limbo. The right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks reminded us of that earlier. Being a son of the manse in the Church of Scotland, I do not know the precise theological equivalent of limbo in my faith, but I think that we can all understand what the right hon. Gentleman meant.

The former Foreign Secretary was very keen and proud about the prospect of greater transparency, better scrutiny and more openness in the EU. For that reason, it is especially sad to hear the new Foreign Secretary apparently retreat from what was to be a symbolic breakthrough for openness in EU matters, and even at this late stage, I hope that the Government will reconsider their approach. When the Minister for Europe responds to the debate, perhaps he will explain why, after years of the Government championing the treaty as a great example of what the new Europe would be about, the Foreign Office has suddenly got cold feet.

In particular, I hope that the Minister will say what the Government’s attitude will be if the Austrians proceed with their proposals to reverse the burden of proof—which would mean that the European Council would have to establish that there was a good reason for not having openness before people were excluded. That would be a good arrangement, and it is a shame that the Government appear to be backtracking away from it.

In his characteristic style, the shadow Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks, used attack as the best form of defence. He cantered through many of the difficulties of the past year, but did not say much about the European People’s party. Perhaps the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) will deal with that at the end of the debate, although, beyond talking about fruitcakes and loonies, there may not be much scope for comment at present.

The shadow Foreign Secretary also said very little about his proposed British free trade area with the US. He mentioned it, and it would be interesting to get more details in due course, although I do not think that the Republicans will provide much cover for the Conservatives in the European Parliament.

The period of reflection has been largely a period of inactivity, but I do not want to be too churlish, as the UK presidency saw the start of the very important negotiations on Turkey’s entry into the EU. That was a major breakthrough, and there was also the budget deal—of sorts—that we have debated here previously. Yet we have not heard much about reflection and re-engagement with the peoples of Europe. The European Commission’s famous plan D—for democracy, dialogue and debate—may have been well intentioned, but it has hardly been gripping. That was
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made clear by the report earlier this year from the European Scrutiny Committee that was debated in European Standing Committee a few weeks ago, and it reinforces the need for this House to improve our scrutiny of what is going on.

Earlier, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton, East (Mr. Hood) spoke about the welcome that he gave the proposals from the Minister for Europe, when he was Leader of the House, to look again at our procedures for scrutiny of these matters. I hope that the Minister’s new interest and new Foreign Office perspective will cause him to be an agent for change, helping to deliver better transparency and openness. That is especially important, as it will allow the House to focus on the important question of subsidiarity that is, quite rightly, of such concern.

As many as 15 of the EU’s 25 member states have ratified the treaty, but not many people still believe that the present version will survive. We learn that there is more reflection to come, and there is little prospect that a target date for reform will be agreed at the forthcoming summit. Institutional life in Europe will be very difficult in the medium term, and we must hope that that serves to focus minds. We will need to make a virtue of pragmatism, but if we want a sustainable long-term outcome, we will have to resist the temptation to indulge in comprehensive cherry-picking, as opposed to undertaking a proper review of the treaty.

We supported the treaty, but whatever its merits or otherwise, we cannot win trust for it if we introduce large chunks by the back door. We need to design a new process that involves both national Parliaments and the citizens of member states, but in the meantime, we must get on with dealing with voters’ concerns. The problem goes beyond subsidiarity, transparency and openness. There is plenty of debate about the democratic deficit in Europe, but we need to focus more on the delivery deficit, as some commentators have noted. That deficit applies to the economy, the security fears that arise from illegal migration and trafficking in human beings and drugs, other organised crime, and the environment.

Over the years EU leaders have promised much, but the rhetoric—such as the Lisbon agenda’s aim to create the world’s most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010—has always looked a bit overblown. It certainly does now, however much the Hampton Court summit tried to give it new focus.

Uncertainty about the economy is the biggest single problem across the EU, and was very influential in last year’s no votes in France and the Netherlands. Some people fear the impact of enlargement, but we think that that fear is misplaced. Enlargement brings challenges, but we supported the Government when they decided, from the outset, to allow workers from new member states to come to this country and be part of the work force here. That was the right decision, and it has proved to be a success.

However, I hope that the summit will consider the realities of globalisation. Some of the reaction to the proposals in the treaty betrayed a desire to wish away the realities of the modern economic world. That is a
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temptation, especially given the economic whirlwind blowing around us, but we cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

China and India show average growth of about 9 per cent. per annum, and that is anticipated to continue over the next few years. People in Europe, whether they be in the eurozone or here in the UK, can only dream of a performance like that.

Mr. Cash: The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the problems and failures of the Lisbon agenda and of the whole European economic project, but does he agree that far too many people waffle on about such matters? I do not accuse him of doing that, but we need to get real and admit that the treaty project is not working. We should then introduce a proper project that would enable member states to run their own economies in their own fashion. Countries could co-operate where possible, as part of an association of nation states, but there would be an end to the nonsensical attempt to square a circle. It is increasingly obvious that that is impossible.

Mr. Moore: The hon. Gentleman is generous to me, but I hope that he does not mind if I say that I disagree with him on this matter. That seems to be the sad pattern of our dealings on matters European, although I admire his consistency and dedication of purpose. Nevertheless, he hits on some real issues that we need to tackle. We will get nowhere if we pretend that there are not serious problems, which national Governments and the EU as a whole must try and resolve.

This year we witnessed an energy crisis, and the development of economic patriotism in France and elsewhere that involved the attempted blocking of certain mergers. Each of the individual countries will have to face up to structural reform, which in some cases is long overdue. They will have to accept that getting Europe’s economy into shape is essential if we are to cope in the new globalising world economy. This year, we have at least had a services directive, although it is not the full-blown one that we were originally promised, and there are signs of life in the Commission, with initiatives to tackle mobile phone roaming costs. All those things are worth while, but, relatively speaking, not as good as they might be.

The big prize is surely the World Trade Organisation. As many have already said, this is a vital trade round, particularly for our commitment to the developing world. Selfishly, for us in Europe, it is also crucial for our economies. The summit will need to recognise what is at stake—and not just for the developed world’s credibility or in relation to the trade benefits of new arrangements between the key economic blocs. Increasingly, the very existence of the WTO itself is at stake, with the increased risk of bilateralism, increased protectionism and a general undermining of the rules-based international trading order. The EU needs the WTO and our constituents need a credible European Union. The Trade Commissioner, going into bat on behalf of all of us in Europe, is much more effective than a single national Government. If we are to cope with the tides of globalisation we need the rules of the system to work, and the EU’s negotiating stand needs to reflect that.

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Sometimes in Europe we forget the basics about security, democracy and prosperity, which brought the founding members together and attracted many more to the Union over the years. The lure of the European Union is still powerful, and future enlargement matters a great deal. There has been widespread concern about the difficulties being experienced by Romania and Bulgaria. Let us not lose sight of the massive progress that they have made. We must hope that they can show that they have caught up with expectations by the time of the next summit. Elsewhere, the development of Croatia, and in particular its compliance—eventually—with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was a major step forward and has to have something to do with the prospect of membership of the European Union.

Like many others, I celebrate Montenegro’s vote earlier this month to become a separate country, and I welcome the fact that the British Government have now recognised it as such. Countries such as Montenegro may in future aspire to membership of the European Union. It is important that we have that prospect there for them, and that we help them in that desire. Right now, our focus is increasingly on Turkey. It was nearly a bad week for the talks, but it was important that the discussions began in earnest. The wrangles are a reminder of the problems, but it is vital, not just for Turkey but for all of us, that progress can be seen to be made on its behalf, however slow the road to membership may be.

Quite apart from those important matters, as the Foreign Secretary herself remarked, a lot of time will be required for debates on foreign policy matters at the summit over the next couple of days. I am glad to hear of the issues that she expects to be up for discussion at the summit—particularly in relation to Iran. After months, if not years, of growing concern, recent developments there have been reasonably encouraging. I think that there is complete agreement that for Iran to obtain nuclear weapons would be completely unacceptable. Any enrichment process for a civil nuclear programme has got to have adequate mechanisms and safeguards—and crucially attract trust—to win support across the world. What matters about our negotiating position with Iran is that we get the balance right between the opportunities and the threats if Iran does not respond. In recent weeks the willingness of the United States to talk to Iran has been a major breakthrough, and we must welcome that. The six nations talks have been able to make some progress, and we hope to hear more about that after the weekend.

In the middle east this is as sensitive a time as ever, in the context of Prime Minister’s Olmert’s visit to Europe and the international community’s funding for the Palestinian Authority. As the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks already observed from personal experience, having been there, the situation is stark. The assessment of the United Nations is that a quarter of the Palestinian Authority’s people are dependent on salaries from the Palestinian Authority, and that without external funding, poverty rates in the occupied territories are expected to rise from 56 per cent. to 74 per cent. over the next couple of years. That estimate may be on the cautious or conservative side.

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We recognise the need for Hamas to support the Quartet principles: to renounce violence, to recognise the state of Israel, and to accept previous peace agreements. However, we need the most careful diplomacy and some assistance from all sides if we are to make some progress. After his final visit to the middle east as Foreign Secretary, our present Leader of the House hinted that the international community had to be prepared to give a little bit of ground—as well as elsewhere. I have written to the Foreign Secretary to seek clarification of that, and I hope that the Minister might be able to answer that point in his closing remarks. What is the international community willing to do, and how will it ensure that we get the temporary international mechanism in place as soon as possible? The delay in establishing that mechanism is surely exacerbating the situation, and it is not yet clear whether the funds to be provided will be sufficient, nor is it clear how long they will last. The summit must attend to that urgently.

In anticipation of the United States-European Union summit, which will follow in a week or so, I hope, too, that the European Union will have some discussion of rendition. We have seen today’s Amnesty International report, which is highly critical of the particular cases in the United Kingdom. Last week’s Council of Europe report was scathing. Like many hon. Members—the matter was raised under points of order earlier—I have tabled questions to the Home Secretary asking about particular flights that came to the United Kingdom; they have yet to be answered after three months.

The Government have been explicit that they do not support extraordinary rendition. However, they do not seem at all willing to ask questions of the United States to find out the answers to the serious questions that are being put. Far from it: we learn from a letter that I received from the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence that the United Kingdom is content to have standing arrangements of which the three wise monkeys would approve. We have got to do better than that. There may be a great deal of embarrassed shuffling of feet around the summit tables, but Europe has got to come to terms with the issue and clean its hands.

The expectations for this summit are desperately low. Perhaps ahead of the French presidential elections and the Dutch general election nothing much can be achieved. Certainly, there is not a diplomat I have spoken to or a commentator I have read who expects anything much at all. That is a great pity. There is much that could and should be done, not just for the credibility of the European Union but for the reality of everyday life in Europe. It will not be hard to beat expectations; let us hope that there is a real attempt to do so.

2.59 pm

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